Elephants may look regal but their feet can reveal clues about mistreatment according to Swiss-based filmmaker and activist Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky. She wants tourists to boycott elephant rides.
Elephant rides are a thriving business in the rapidly growing tourist city of Jaipur in northwestern India, but an average of four to eight captive elephants die every year among the 125 that are put to work ferrying people around on their broad, sloping backs.
Overwork, weakness, joint disease and untreated infections are the main culprits. Despite the deaths, the elephant population remains stable. A new elephant is quickly purchased before a sick one has even died. The elephants are under the yoke of their owners, for whom the lucrative business is more important than the welfare of the giant animals. There are few exceptions to this general rule.
In the winter of 2012, I made a documentary film called Where the Elephant Sleepsexternal link that highlights the plight of these captive giants in Jaipur. I visited the elephant village of Haathi Gaon, created specifically to house elephants and their keepers.
The animals are kept in individual pens, where they stand in chains on a sloping concrete ground. They receive no medical care. The poor treatment – combined with too much strenuous labour in the tourism business or at weddings and private events, not to mention being kept on a diet exclusively of cane sugar – makes their stressful lives even more unbearable. Even from a distance, you can see that many of the elephants in Jaipur are lame: they suffer from arthritic damage in their knees, shoulders and elbow joints.